Pilot program aims to improve transportation services in Tusc, three other counties

COLUMBUS -- State and local agencies are joining forces on a pilot program to make transit in Coshocton, Guernsey, Muskingum and Tuscarawas counties easier to navigate and more efficient. The new program, Mobility Ohio, is intended to be a one-stop hub that will rely on agency coordination and next-generation software to let people conveniently schedule trips by phone or online. The stated goal is to improve safety, availability and quality of transportation for older adults, people with disabilities, those with lower incomes, and others with transportation needs.

Gov. Mike DeWine made an announcement about the program on Tuesday. The £2.8 million grant to create and fund Mobility Ohio is part of the Federal Transit Administration's Innovative Coordinated Access and Mobility program.

For decades, state agencies across the U.S. have acted independently to develop their own programs and policies to provide transportation to eligible customers. "No one should have to reach out to several different agencies just to schedule a trip to the doctor's office, grocery store, or work," DeWine said in a prepared statement. "Mobility Ohio will coordinate trips with 40 transit providers to create a safe and reliable resource for transportation. We will continue to look for ways to make transportation more accessible for Ohioans."

The state's human service transportation is currently provided in a fragmented and inefficient manner, according to the Mobility Ohio website. In Ohio, 14 state agencies spend at least £500 million annually to transport their clients and customers to jobs, medical care, and other destinations. The services are funded by 130 federal programs at 12 federal agencies.

Each agency has developed its own programs, policies, and procedures for transportation without structured coordination with other agencies. At the same time, people often don't have a way to get to jobs, the grocery, and other destinations. All 88 counties are responsible for administering funds at the local level.

More than 3,600 entities deliver the service. Mobility Ohio will allow agencies to combine trips and ensure they are paid by the right funding source. Story continues

Mobility Ohio's website says it is working to consolidate policies and break down silos to deliver more efficient, high quality community transportation. The desired outcome is to provide more trips to more people, more conveniently, for the same dollars already being spent today. "Governor DeWine always challenges us to find ways to do things better and improve the lives of those we serve.

This is an example of doing just that," Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jack Marchbanks said in a press release. "We're taking a complicated and cumbersome process and building a new and efficient system that can be a model for the nation." The Mobility Ohio Committee plans to deploy the program statewide if the pilot is successful. Mobility Ohio Committee members are: the Ohio Department of Aging, Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, Ohio Department of Health, Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, Ohio Department of Medicaid, Ohio Department of Transportation and Ohio Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities.

The Mobility Ohio Committee has identified these steps to develop the pilot: o Seek input and communicate effectively with state and local agencies and other stakeholders and funders. o Analyze various funding streams and policies to determine where inconsistencies can be minimized so more trips can be provided, more cost-effectively, with less paperwork. o Develop, align and coordinate transportation provider standards across multiple state and local agencies to ensure consistent, high-quality and affordable service to clients and customers, such as by having driver and vehicle standards. o Develop and implement scheduling technologies to let clients and customers schedule trips at a central location by phone or online. o Use a combination of existing and new brokerage transportation service and software models to schedule, dispatch and broker trips within one software system.

This will allow all human services trips to be tracked and reported, with costs shared among multiple funders, then invoiced to the appropriate funding agency. o Develop a tool for transportation providers to determine their own rates using a consistent rate setting methodology based on fully allocated costs. o Establish a driver, vehicle and provider oversight database for drivers, vehicles and vehicle Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility. This tool will ease the process of tracking and ensuring driver and vehicle requirements are met. o Establish key performance indicators to report pilot progress and measure outcomes.

For more information, visit transportation.ohio.gov/mobility-ohio.

This article originally appeared on The Times-Reporter: Pilot program aims to make transportation more efficient